BRUSSELS -- U.S. Marine Corps Gen. John Allen, commander of forces in Afghanistan, will take over this spring as NATO's new supreme allied commander and head of U.S. European Command, pending confirmation by the U.S. Senate, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta announced Wednesday during a meeting of NATO defense ministers.
"Gen. Allen has commanded ISAF through a very critical period. He oversaw the war at the height of its combat strength," Panetta said. "We have turned an important corner.
"If confirmed," Panetta added, "his experience as head of ISAF forces will be instrumental in leading NATO's oversight of the Afghanistan mission."
NATO has already approved Allen as the next SACEUR, NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said.
The announcement came at the end of two days of talks here among NATO defense ministers.
Allen will be replaced in Afghanistan by Marine Gen. Joseph Dunford, the assistant Marine commandant.
Allen, who assumed command in Afghanistan in July 2011, was in Brussels this week to brief defense ministers on the progress of the war, where a spike in so-called green on blue attacks has hurt morale in the field.
Dunford, who has served in Iraq but not in Afghanistan, will be responsible for overseeing the plan to end combat operations by the end of 2014.
Panetta described Dunford as an "exceptionally gifted strategic leader."
Allen also will replace Adm. James Stavridis as the U.S.'s top military officer in Europe.
Stavridis, who was the first naval officer to hold the position of SACEUR and EUCOM chief, is expected to retire. He has been the senior U.S. officer in Europe since the summer of 2009 and before that served as head of U.S. Southern Command.
Stavridis and Allen graduated together from the Naval Academy in 1976.